Words: Lloyd Bolton | Photo: Willow Shields
There are very few artists in whom I have complete faith that what they put out will be worthwhile, but Ellie Bleach is one of them. Naturally, I was delighted by the announcement that her debut EP, ‘No Elegant Way to Sell Out’, will be coming out via Sad Club Records in October. New single ‘Big Strong Man’, whose release buoyed this announcement, is a drawn-out validation of this faith, an intelligent 5 minute song-essay on incompatibility, the creative life, and privilege in various forms.
Moving more gradually than the brilliant carousel-ride of ‘Doing Really Well Thanks’, our speaker moves gradually from musing on birthright privilege, jibing another’s new money wealth and a lack of taste and to her own qualities, turning them over as blessings and curses. She expresses the constriction of the artist’s existence at the service of work and the burden of expectation to engage with the world in a certain way when sometimes all anyone wants to do is ‘fuck everything and think like a big strong man’.
Bleach is the first to point out the rooting of this song in the style of classic 70s pop rock piano ballads and later appropriations of that form, sharing a playlist of influences captioned ‘normalise plagiarism’. Here, Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson figure alongside contemporary artists like Ms. White, Fiona Apple and, of course Lana del Ray.
Most of these artists represent a form of definingly American rock songwriting, which shows up in Bleach’s work, but is decidedly offset by a certain Britishness in the sense of humour and the imagery in the lyrics. This is consistent across much of her work, here established in the opening lines as Lana Del Ray’s ‘Venice Beach’ decadence is replaced by the English opulence of ‘cygnet rings and summer houses’.
The use of overtly American musical tropes opens up the opportunity to reflect on experiences of modern Britain in a more removed manner, perhaps better suited to an up-to-date portrayal. Bleach’s self-proclaimed ‘plagiarism’ constitutes the creation of an elaborate backdrop before which she offers something purely her own.
The song arrives finally at a catchy and heavenly plateau formed on the mantra ‘Fuck everything and think like a big strong-‘. From here we are left to eagerly await the release of the full EP later this year.